The death toll from mudslides in California is expected to rise from at least 13 but rescue efforts will become easier as a powerful rain storm heads west and skies clear, authorities say.
Rescue personnel in Santa Barbara County early on Wednesday continued searching for victims where mudslides slammed into homes, covered highways and swept away vehicles early on Tuesday when more than 1.5cm of rain fell in five minutes, a rate that far exceeds the normal flash flood threshold.
"While we hope it will not, we expect this number to increase as we continue to look for people who are missing and unaccounted for," Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown of the death toll during a news conference.
The upscale communities of Montecito and Carpenteria, just outside the city of Santa Barbara, were hardest hit. Over the past month California's scenic coastline was ravaged by a series of intense wildfires that burned off vegetation.
On Tuesday, emergency workers using search dogs and helicopters to rescue dozens of people stranded in mud-coated rubble in the normally pristine area, sandwiched between the ocean and the sprawling Los Padres National Forest, about 180km north of Los Angeles.
A 14-year-old girl was found alive after firefighters using rescue dogs heard cries for help from what was left of her Montecito home, the Los Angeles Times reported.
"I thought I was dead there for a minute," the teenager Lauren Cantin, covered in mud, said after workers spent six hours rescuing her, NBC News reported.
About 300 people were stranded in a canyon. Local rescue crews, using borrowed helicopters from the US Coast Guard, worked to airlift them out, officials said.
Heavy downpours struck before dawn on Tuesday after 7,000 residents in Santa Barbara County were ordered to evacuate and another 23,000 were urged to do so voluntarily, some of them for a second time since December.